The following is the introduction to an investigative report conducted by independent researcher Mark Snyder entitled “Sexual Exploitation and Abuse at the Hands of the United Nation’s Stabilization Mission in Haiti.” The full report is available here.
A preliminary independent investigation conducted in areas close to existing or abandoned bases for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) brings to light the alarming magnitude of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) at the hands of United Nations personnel in Haiti. The purpose of this investigation is to determine if the initial unreported cases brought to the attention of the author were isolated incidents or are instead a result of a systemic problem present in the UN’s mission in Haiti. In consultation with Haitian civil society partners, the following report considers that a further, in-depth investigation into these abuses is vital and urgent.
The results of our investigation strongly suggest that the issue of SEA by United Nations personnel in Haiti is substantial and has been grossly underreported. Using the same methodology in all areas where MINUSTAH bases are or have been located[i], a thorough and in-depth investigation would be expected to identify close to 600 victims who would agree to in-person interviews. This number in itself indicates a victim count that requires immediate attention and significant modifications to current MINUSTAH peacekeeping operations, including with regard to the manner in which UN SEA cases are investigated and reported. These preliminary findings are based on the work of one investigator during 27 days of investigation. Through a network of community contacts in eight areas where there currently is, or where there has been a MINUSTAH base, the investigation identified 42 UN SEA victims who agreed to be interviewed. With a professional investigative team, comprised of individuals with specialized expertise and the resources to cover the entire country, the likely number of documented UN SEA allegations from victims would be expected to be significantly higher.
The UN Conduct and Discipline Unit (CDU), under the Department of Field Services (DFS) documented 75 total allegations of UN SEA countrywide in Haiti[ii] from 2008-2015. In comparison, 40 of the 42 victims interviewed within the limited scope of this independent investigation allegedly suffered sexual exploitation perpetrated by UN personnel during this same time period. Of the remaining two individuals: one stated she was first a victim in 2005, and the exploitation occurred repeatedly until 2015. The other was a victim of a single incident prior to 2008. Only four of the 42 said they had previously reported the SEA in some manner to the UN, suggesting that the magnitude of the problem may be dramatically underestimated by the CDU. The victims we spoke to were not made aware of whether their cases were included in the 75 total allegations documented by the CDU. All four victims stated they were not satisfied with the subsequent investigatory process or its results.
In comparison to the CDU’s 75 total allegations, the estimated total possible victims of SEA – during the years 2008-2015 – based on an extrapolation of the results of our investigation – is 564. Again, this is an estimate derived from the findings of a single investigator and based only on allegations from those who agreed to meet and be interviewed.
The preliminary results of our investigation show that actions taken, such as the creation of the CDU and the extensive efforts with the three pillars of prevention of misconduct, enforcement of UN standards of conduct, and remedial action, do not appear to have been adequate in preventing further SEA perpetrated by MINUSTAH personnel. These efforts have failed to interrupt a persistent cycle of exploitation and abuse followed by UN statements of regret and reform, and then additional incidents of SEA.
The UN has stated in numerous publications that while there has been an approximately 50 percent increase in UN peacekeeping personnel in the world, the number of SEA accusations has been steadily decreasing.[iii] However, within the seemingly disconnected array of the UN’s SEA reporting and response mechanisms[iv], wide concern is expressed by UN personnel about the validity of the official numbers of UN SEA allegations. Many suspect that the numbers and their decline do not accurately reflect the occurrences of exploitation and abuse.[v] The results of this investigation thus far have shown that in Haiti, as UN personnel suspected, this downward trend of accusations is not due to decreased levels of UN SEA, but instead is caused by a reduction in victims’ reporting of these acts.
The reforms and initiatives that have been taken over the years since MINUSTAH’s 2004 inception appear to be inadequate to prevent UN SEA and fail to encourage victims to come forward. For these reasons, we strongly suggests that a professional independent investigation, comprised of individuals with specialized expertise in sexual exploitation and abuse, be undertaken in Haiti at all locations that currently have or have had MINUSTAH bases so to determine the level of sexual exploitiation and abuse by United Nations’ personnel. In order for MINUSTAH to fulfill its mandate of assisting Haiti with the restoration and maintenance of the rule of law and support efforts to “promote and protect human rights, particularly of women and children, in order to ensure individual accountability for human rights abuses and redress for victims”[vi], UN SEA victims must not remain hidden in the shadows. Instead, their existence must be officially recognized, and their voices must be a part of the discussion on the necessary reforms to the UN peacekeeping system.
Sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel in Haiti has been extensively documented since MINUSTAH’s founding in 2004.[vii] Notably, two years after the UN openly recognized SEA by UN peacekeepers as a problem[viii] and sanctioned the 2005 UN Zeid report focusing on UN SEA and describing specific actions to be taken to eliminate future abuse[ix], investigations in Haiti uncovered that the mission’s peacekeepers from Sri Lanka were committing extensive sexual exploitation and abuse including rape and transactional sex. This led to a reported 114 soldier repatriations, a move presented as a model for other UN peacekeeping missions. Of those repatriated to Sri Lanka, none of the perpetrators were criminally prosecuted in their home country[x]. In response to the scandal, the UN assured that they remained committed to both to the zero-tolerance policy on SEA and to best practices in peacekeeping.[xi] Other highly visible cases, such as the repeated rape and subsequent kidnapping of a young special-needs boy by peacekeepers in Goniave, Haiti[xii], caused the mission to express outrage and the official response was that the mission would take their responsibility in dealing with abuses by UN personnel extremely seriously.[xiii]
But in reality, immunity from Haitian prosecution for SEA crimes prevails and the United Nations has little more than administrative control over the military contingents and UN Police (UNPOL) that comprise their mission.[xiv] For violations involving military personnel, investigations and criminal prosecutions are left to the troop-contributing countries (TCC). UNPOL and other civilian personnel are investigated by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), but again this leaves the UN with administrative sanctions as their only recourse. Prosecution of crimes is left to the home countries of the officers or civilians.[xv] This reality leaves victims with very few options to seek justice[xvi].
Sexual exploitation and abuse scandals have made their way to the public eye throughout the mission’s tenure, but the true levels of UN SEA and the number of victims remain largely hidden from view. Perpetrators are often militarily armed individuals in significant positions of power in the middle of an extremely vulnerable population. They are from outside of the victims’ known community and are untouchable by the Haitian system of justice or other traditional methods of recourse or of possible support. Fear of reprisal is an understandable concern for victims. Coupled with these barriers and the belief that reporting a case will bring social stigmatization more than real solutions, it is highly unlikely that victims will bring cases forward to officials. SEA victims remain largely in the shadows, which is reflected in UN documents and in “the preoccupation of all (the UN) systems put in place for SEA (which) is more focused on UN personnel than on victims” and their well being[xvii]. The 2013 Secretary General’s appointed team of SEA experts who visited Haiti in 2013, stated, “Overall, there was noted a culture of enforcement avoidance, with managers feeling powerless to enforce anti-SEA rules, a culture of silence around reporting and discussing cases, (…) and little accorded to the rights of the victim.”[xviii]
Instead of providing support, the current UN systems present additional obstacles for SEA victims, many of whom have been subjected to traumatic and extremely violent sexual crimes.
The full report is available here.